"SHIELD" is getting rid of its cliches for a tighter focus every episode. Now it just needs to stay out of poor political references.
China! Mysterious land of street magicians! A street magician, spurned on by a rough crowd, conjures up a fireball, impressing a girl in a flower dress, named Rain. They return to his place, and he thinks his fire "magic" has impressed her pants off, until he closes his eyes. They open again and two men in fireproof suits knock him out.
Cold open! Ward and Skye train over Battleship while Coulson and May look on. The street magican's disappearance registers on their radar, and Skye learns about The List, detailing everyone in the world with powers. The Chinese SHIELD agent reveals that the Rising Tide apparently hacked SHIELD to get the magician's location. Skye goes into instant-defense mode, offering to trace the hack to prove her innocence.
Meanwhile, Magician Chan wakes up tries to leave his bedroom/cell, and Girl in the Flower Dress says he can leave, but she'll increase his powers and call him "Scorch." She promises him fame, and he starts to like the idea.
Back on the bus, Skye finds the hacker was Miles Lydon, who famously hacked the Kremlin prior. They jet to Texas, where Ward and Coulson chase Lydon down, to no avail. Skye meets him in his apartment, chastizing him into flirting; apparently they have history. A sexy history. After their history, um...culminates, May walks in on them. Busted!
Coulson and Skye have a "Very Disappointed In You" talk where he reveals he had May follow her, and she admits Lydon is just into Freedom of Information. Dead end. Lydon and Skye are both "prisoners," and Coulson decides they're going to Hong Kong. Chan and Flower Dress prepare for the power augmentation with an initial shot, allowing for some fireball throwing.
On the Bus; Lydon and Skye argue over whether or not SHIELD is the NSA, basically. The team finds out Lydon sold info to about $1 mil, to a eco-research lab about "insects." DUN DUN DUNNN, Centipede is back! Smash cut to the Flower Dress AKA Rayna saying that Scorch's powers negate the Extremis serum blowing him up. Dr. Debbie orders him "drained." The team determines to get to him, but back in the evil HQ, Chan tries to flame out of captivity, but they've drained his blood platelets; he's not immune to his own power anymore.
Coulson says he and May will lead the charge; Skye finds out Lydon's price is really low and loses all faith in hacktivism. SHIELD busts in, but Chan turns traitor. May tries to reason with him, but he decides he'd rather burn. Skye devises a plan to hack the day to victory, while Coulson/May attempt to restrain Scorch. Ward punches the way in for Skye to allow remote access to Fitz/Simmons; Rayna decides to split, just in time for Scorch to burn up Debbie in a graphic and unsettling manner. Coulson and May hit him with a double dose of Extremis, and he starts to build to critical mass, exploding just as the team gets out.
Back on the Bus; Coulson straps a restraining bracelet on Lydon, who's relegated to finding his own way back to America. He also tells Skye to come clean or she's out permanently. Skye reveals she became a hacker to find her parents, who apparently were covered up somehow by SHIELD. Coulson decides to keep her on, but she also gets a bracelet. Post-credits; Rayna asks a balding man in prison to get in touch with a clairvoyant.
First off, this series keeps answering my problems I have with it, but let's note that they showed a woman being burned to death until she was reduced to ashes. What the hell? That's the most gruesome death I've seen on TV in a long time. I can't think of any death in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that ugly, and Thor flew a giant monster's head once. Anyway...
I will admit to only being half-right when I said that Coulson already knew Skye was a liar. The idea was cliched enough that I thought it had to be playing with us, but it turned out Coulson just had a hunch and had her followed. Thankfully they've dealt with it early, so it'll only be a footnote in three episodes. Trying to find her natural parents through a spy organization is much more unique. It solves the complaint I've heard a few people say; making a beautiful woman a hacker is so anti-cliche it's become cliche. Which, I don't share because it's vaguely sexist, and by "vaguely" I mean "completely." Skye became a hacker because she thought she could find her parents and picked up a cause along the way. If that makes her a "fake nerd," maybe they can slap a neckbeard on her. Anyway...
Kudos to the writing staff behind the show for keeping a tighter focus. The Agents are becoming more of a "X-Files" team, investigating super-powered incidents of interest. It makes the show more cohesive than in, say, Episode 2, "Let's Explore the Ruins Because I Don't Know." More kudos for the lone "Avengers" reference being related directly to Coulson and not just reminding the audience how weird the world is. World-building only works if it's relevant.
I'm also going to semi-rant for a moment; the character of Miles Lydon was emphatically stupid. Ripped from today's headlines, he's a hacker who shouts that information should be free, but will sell it for a cool million to terrorists. Then when he's busted, he quotes the Bill of Rights and praises Edward Snowden and Wikileaks. I can't tell if this is the producers using the current controversy with the NSA to make the show hit closer to home, or if they're making a statement that hackers/whistle-blowers are hypocrites with limited knowledge and world-view. The issue being discussed between leaders of countries is too complex to be summed up with one douchey character who mostly exists to move a plot ahead. End rant.
So one big cliche is dealt with, things with the villain of the season Centipede are heating up, and Coulson might be a robot. Stay posted!